December 3, 1976 [Rocky]

I’ve stood up there at the top of the steps Rocky climbs, the art museum behind him--but he turns his back on it and faces the city, spread out along the Ben Franklin Parkway--and it’s hard to tell if the city is daring him to succeed, or if Rocky is daring the city to try to stop him.

Not since Brando in the ‘50s have I seen a beefy guy so thoroughly bowed down that he has to murmur, so he can blame himself--because no one else is listening. The fact that Rocky’s triumph is not winning but finishing justifies this hunched-over performance, a man humbled by his failures--and inspired by them, in the end reveling in struggle, victory incidental. It’s a completely endearing performance, from that silly hat he wears to his sudden metaphors--he calls the little birds in the pet shop “flying candy”--to his gentle touch, a brawler always trying to make peace.

Among the various nostalgia-crazes the ‘70s has been stirring up--for the Roaring ‘20s, the “Happy Days” of the 1950s, the Old West, even the Depression--Rocky is the strangest entry: It does not re-imagine a historical past, but a cinematic one, reviving Old Hollywood, the endless string of third-act uplifts, the girl who stands by her man, the grizzled mentor, the eccentric sidekick. But Sylvester Stallone drags them into the present, the smoke-and-rain-filled streets of an American city worn out and waiting for a Bicentennial Moment--and he delivers, giving all those South Philly street corners something to doo-wop about.

I admit it: Tears welled in my eyes at the end, Rocky laying on thickly the salve we need, two hundred years later and feeling cheated out of a good time, trying to stand up--and Rocky does it for us, never KO’d, going the distance. For two hours on my birthday I’m given the feeling, like the other Rocky--Marciano--that somebody up there likes me.


Popular Posts